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Liberals and Terrorism
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Kevin Drum links to this Peter Beinart story about how liberals need to have a serious internal debate, get serious about combatting Islamic totalitarianism, and purge the Michael Moore elements from the party.

Beinart draws historical parallels with liberal responses to WWII and the fight against communism. Drum says he's written the wrong essay:

His history lesson explains what happened, but not why, and in the end this makes his piece more assertion than argument. What he really needs to write is a prequel to his current piece, one that presents the core argument itself: namely, why defeating Islamic totalitarianism should be a core liberal issue.


Now, Beinart is right that there's a liberal humanitarian case to be made for some kind of American intervention in the Middle East: the entire region is a cesspool of human rights violations, religious intolerance, violence against women, and brutal poverty amid great wealth. But just as in 1941 and 1949, that's not enough.

He says these are only enough when combined with a dire threat. To which I would ask: Why not?

I've seen liberals become furious with indignation when it's even hinted that a woman's right to choose might be restricted, much less outlawed, domestically. I've heard liberals rail about the injustice of deporting illegal aliens. But the anger seems to melt away when it's another culture or country. I mean, gays can't marry here, but they're executed for being gay in some countries. If that were going on in say, Ohio, wouldn't you be in favor of sending in the National Guard to stop it?

So why doesn't the core liberal concern for basic human rights extend to all humankind, regardless of culture? This has always seemed to me one of the great inherent contradictions in liberal thought.

But aside from that, let's say Drum is right about human rights alone not being enough of a motivating factor for supporting forced reform. He then says:

It's arguable that liberals are foolish to let all this prevent them from seeing the totalitarian danger for what it is. But it's hardly surprising. The fact is that compared to fascism and communism, Islamic totalitarianism seems like pretty thin beer to many. It's not fundamentally expansionist, and its power to kill people isn't even remotely in the same league.

That it's not fundamentally expansionist is just flat-out wrong. Check out this article by Juan Cole:

For al-Qaeda to succeed, it must overthrow the individual nation-states in the Middle East, most of them colonial creations, and unite them into a single, pan-Islamic state. But Ayman al-Zawahiri's organization, al-Jihad al-Islami, had tried very hard to overthrow the Egyptian state, and was always checked. Al-Zawahiri thought it was because of U.S. backing for Egypt. They believed that the U.S. also keeps Israel dominant in the Levant, and backs Saudi Arabia's royal family.

Al-Zawahiri then hit upon the idea of attacking the "far enemy" first. That is, since the United States was propping up the governments of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc., all of which al-Qaeda wanted to overthrow so as to meld them into a single, Islamic super-state, then it would hit the United States first.


And even Saddam Hussein's relatively "secular" totalitarism (even though he wrapped himself in the clothing of Islam) was incredibly expansionist. Ba'athism at its core is a Pan-Arab ideology.

Drum's second assertion, that the forces of Islamic totalitarianism don't have the killing power of either Nazis or Communists is also flawed. We're now facing an ideology which celebrates martyrdom, so that the calculus of mutually-assured destruction goes out the window. We know that al Qaeda has feverishly attempted to gain access to weapons of mass destruction, while states like Libya, Iran, and Iraq had the state resources to develop them. Iraq's capabilites were now (in hindsight) obviously decimated after the first Gulf War. But President Bush has often talked about the dangerous nexus between terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

What makes them more dangerous in many ways than enemies from previous conventional wars or the Cold War, is their ideological embrace of martyrdom. At present, it doesn't appear that their killing power is that great, but we are in a race to prevent that very divergence of killing power and death-cult mentality.

Drum, by not recognizing or acknowledging this, pretty much makes Beinart's argument for him.

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